OPINION

Forest conservation a la Belgique

With Greece fast becoming a scorched landscape as a result of forest fires that were simply allowed to happen or whose causes were tolerated by both society and the state – some of whom are probably about to share the spoils – forests are also the focus of attention in a number of other countries, where trees are not only much less sparse than they are here, but are actually quite thick on the ground. Apart from being the capital of Europe and therefore a popular destination for groups of Eurodeputies for a few days’ vacation, Brussels is also one of the greenest cities in Europe. The forests start just 10-15 minutes from the city center and when we say forests we mean just that – huge century-old trees among a wealth of other flora and fauna, and a population that not only refrains from setting them alight, but whose affection and respect help conserve them (there is no garbage anywhere to be seen in these forests). Ordinary Athenians would most likely be shocked to hear how many trees there are per capita in their own city compared to Brussels. Yet Athenians stand by and watch their few remaining trees go up in flames, while the natives of Brussels are sounding the alarm to protect theirs even when they have not caught fire. The Forest Code of Wallonia, one of Belgium’s two main regions, is over 150 years old. This means that as far back as 1854, the inhabitants of the then nascent state of Belgium (which is the same age as the modern Greek state) went to the trouble of drawing up a forest register as soon as possible. It was so successful that it is still in use – and effective – all these years later, as evidenced by the extent of the forests in the country. Now Belgians believe it is time for a change, not because their forests are burning down. (If that had happened there may have been a revolution.) They have simply realized that the forests will inevitably be affected by climate change. Think about it for a minute. They have the largest number of forests in Europe, they have enough rain to maintain them, they don’t have frequent fires like in Greece, nor land-grabbers, yet they are concerned. As we stand by idly, incompetent and even accomplices to the ongoing crimes, the Belgians are legislating for the next 150 years, imposing the strictest regulations not to restore forests that have already burnt to the ground, but to protect them from climate change. Of course, we might say, these are politically apathetic societies who no longer know what politics really means; not like us, the politically active militants of the world. That’s how we have become accustomed to seeing them. But it is they who are drafting new legislation to ensure that they will be gaining even more forested land over the next 20 years. And what are we doing? The answer of course is well-known, and the responsibility is collective, particularly when the catastrophe occurs two months before an election and is not even part of the campaign agenda.